Mannie Fresh talks how he stays relevant
The event’s name captures its true identity: Art, Beats and Lyrics. And what you see is exactly what you get: dope urban art, fly music and so much more.
In its 12th year, the tour, presented by Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Cult Creative, will make stops in Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, St. Louis and other cities. Launched by Cult Creative in 2004, it’s one of the largest traveling art shows that fuses urban art and hip-hop culture.
In late September, the tour stopped in Washington, D.C., where thousands of fans filled the city’s Echostage, a venue that was transformed into an art-filled, gallery-style exhibit featuring pieces from all types of visual artists. The interactive art installations featured music, food and signature Jack Daniel’s cocktails. The curators of the show made use of more than 30,000 square feet of space that highlighted cultural icons Nina Simone, Malcolm X and Prince in photo installations and exhibits. The event showcased work from urban talent across the country.
Mannie Fresh is still rocking crowds
When the curators of the art and music tour reached out to the New Orleans native, the hit-maker was on board.
“It just felt like I would be a good fit, and it turns out to be something super cool for me, a great experience and all of that,” Fresh said. “Just music. Art and hip-hop is starting to be a big thing all of a sudden, and just the culture of hip-hop and everything that it brings to the forefront is cool.”
Born Byron Otto Thomas, Mannie Fresh began his career making smoking beats and spinning hits in New Orleans. The multiplatinum, Grammy-nominated producer is responsible for creating hits for UGK, Trina, Gucci Man, The Notorious B.I.G. and, of course, Cash Money. He is now back to spinning full time, moving the crowd and DJing in clubs across the country, and he is still making it happen in studios with Kanye West, Bun B, Drake and the iconic Dr. Dre.
Hits like Juvenille’s “Ha” and “Back That Azz Up,” Lil Wayne’s “Go D.J.” and the crew’s “Cash Money Is An Army” and “Bling Bling” are all part of Mannie’s creation. Baby and Mannie also formed their own group, Big Tymers, and released a slew of great singles and albums, including “Still Fly,” “Get Your Roll On,” and “#1 Stunna.” Mannie also released his own solo album, The Mind of Mannie Fresh.
Mannie says that even after three-plus decades, the fact that he remains relevant is “nuts.”
“Believe me, it’s crazy to me. ’Cause every time I do one, the attendance gets bigger and bigger and it’s crazy. In this day and age, I know a lot of artists … they feel like they’ve checked out or their time has passed. I feel like this is my reset time, like I don’t even know how it happened and whatever, but it’s crazy to me that this many people keep coming, showing up, people that grew up with me and all of that. It’s bridging a gap somewhere, so thank y’all for acknowledging it.
“I’ve been trying to explain it in almost every interview. I have no idea how it happens, but I’m glad that it’s going on. I’m super glad that in the culture it’s not just black kids, white kids, it’s everybody. I’m super blessed, I feel. I pay attention to what crowds want. I don’t play for me. I think that’s why a lot of people like when I come. You have a good time for whatever that brief moment is in life or whatever is supposed to be the time of your life.”
According to his bio, Fresh’s dive into the entertainment world started more than three decades ago. He was part of the rap group New York Incorporated. As their fame grew, Mannie caught the attention of rapper Gregory D. They formed a rap duo and were signed to RCA and released an album in 1992 entitled The Real Deal. He later joined Cash Money after forming a friendship with Brian “Baby” Williams in which he worked with Lil Wayne, Juvenile and B.G. It was Mannie’s beats that made Southern rap popular in the late ’90s, and he remains relevant today. After splitting with Cash Money in 2005 and signing with Def Jam Records, he produced hits for T.I., Bun B, Young Jeezy and Rick Ross.
Mannie just put out the song “Dive,” featuring New Orleans “Queen of Bounce” Big Freedia.
“Of course, Freedia is from New Orleans, so that was a long time coming,” he said.
He’s also working with rapper 2 Chainz.
“With Chainz, I’m doing my project, him and Wayne jumped on it, and Big Krit jumped on it,” Mannie explained. “Snoop actually gave me a song. I even got this guy, Dallas Davidson, who is a country writer, and he did a couple of songs for me. I’ve got a little bit of everything. The latest thing I think I put out was on Big Boi’s album, from Outkast. Me and Curren$y have a song on his album.”
Mannie said reuniting with Juvenile and Wayne wasn’t hard at all despite old disagreements and discrepancies.
“I always stay cool with everybody,” Mannie said. “All the other stuff really doesn’t matter to me. We had our differences in the past, or whatever, but I grew up with these dudes like brothers, so it was just me making a phone call like, ‘Hey, I need you.’ It was that simple, believe it or not.
He said he is motivated by making the most of his time.
“I just don’t ever want to be left behind, so that’s motivation for me,” Mannie said. “Motivation for me is just I don’t want to be the last person, so I’m always on. I just want to know what’s going on, so just that hold your own thing, wanting to know what’s in the now right now. That’s what keeps me motivated.”
The origin of Art, Beats and Lyrics
Dwayne Wright always knew he was an artist. So when his creation came to fruition in the form of Art, Beats and Lyrics, the Fayetteville, North Carolina, native knew his signature name and his God-given talent would bridge the gap between art, music and raw talent.
“Most people know me as Dubelyoo, with the years of doing illustrations and a lot of urban stuff,” Dubelyoo said. “So that’s the nickname that I’ve gotten. We’re going to go back to the eighth grade. I always used to sign my stuff DW. And so they just called me DW. Then it became D, then Dub, then D Dub. Then I was like, ‘You know, let’s settle it Dubelyoo.’ ”
Now living in Atlanta, the 41-year-old brings together artists who make the tour a success.
“When you’re an independent artist, you’ve got to think about ways to survive,” Dubelyoo said of his evolution into the artist he is today. “So you’ve got to keep adding things to your toolbox, to enable you to stay working.”
Dubelyoo explained the birth of the event.
“Okay, so here is how it went down. I was on the art scene in Atlanta, doing my own thing. Then meanwhile, Jabari Graham, which is my business partner, he worked for the circus and then he got laid off, so he wanted to start his own thing. They [the circus] combined some of the things he liked, like art and music. So he had this idea of doing a show called Art Beats + Lyrics. Only thing is he really didn’t know any artists.
Dubelyoo and Graham collaborated to do an art show at The High Museum of Art in Atlanta that featured local and street artists.
“We packed out the museum in two hours, and they shut the doors so they couldn’t get in,” Dubelyoo said. “Them shutting the doors created a line that went down the block and around the corner, which created a buzz, because most of the people couldn’t see what happened inside. All they know is they came to this art show and they couldn’t get in. That went further than the actual people that came in the show. That built the actual mythology of Art Beats + Lyrics.”
Three years after that initial art show, the concept was pitched to Jack Daniel’s. Graham handles the logistics, bookings, musicians and DJs. Dubelyoo is responsible for the artists.
Dubelyoo is also one of the featured artists, and his exhibit is a replica of an art studio.
“Last year I was doing a boxing theme, so I built a boxing ring and all that stuff,” Dubelyoo explained. “But this year, I wanted to show people that come to the show a chance to see what they don’t normally see when it comes to an artist. Most times, we just see the final product. You’ll see the frame piece in the gallery or whatever, but I wanted to show there’s a process to get from point A to point B, which is your sketches, your drawings, your notebook. I think a lot of the magic happens in the drawings. I wanted to show that experience in my installation.”
During the summer months while building the show, he and other artists create out of a warehouse in Atlanta owned by Super Soaker inventor Lonnie Johnson.
“As the curator, you get to watch people create in the warehouse,” Dubelyoo said. “When you’re in that warehouse in Atlanta, and it’s 85 degrees at night, and it’s hot, and you get to watch some of the hottest people in the art world on your scene in there, and you get to see their process, you can’t help but take some of that, add it to your work, and it’s very inspirational.”
Michael Bolling, multicultural marketing manager at Jack Daniel’s knew the event would remain a success when he first came to the company.
“I’ve been with the company just about two years,” Bolling said. “So Arts, Beats and Lyrics is a partnership that we’ve had for 12 years now. We began working together, and kind of the convergence of Jack Daniel’s as a brand and his vision is what you see today. It’s literally highlighting art, culture, music, all the things you talk about. It was kind of an organic thing; we were trying to find out a way to highlight artists. Music and art are obviously a match made in heaven, and then when you are able to add Jack Daniel’s on top of that — who is rooted in music, rooted in bringing people together, rooted in good times — I think once again a perfect convergence of all three.”
Bolling said it takes a crew of about 40 or 50 people to put on the event and handle the efforts behind the scenes.
“The people that are cutting up the lemons to make sure that the drinks look right, to the people who are making sure the sound is coming through the speakers correctly, making sure the art is hung correctly. It absolutely takes a team effort, and I think we’ve been able to successfully execute and bring a great program to D.C.”
The management team’s idea behind Mannie Fresh was something they knew would be a crowd hit.
“We literally just try to identify talent that would resonate with the demographic that we’re trying to target. Obviously it’s about hip-hop, and what we try to do is make sure that we have artists that are kind of grounded, kind of foundational. That’s what we pride ourselves on. So when you look at the talent we’ve had up to this point, it’s been your Scarfaces, your Bun B’s, T-Pain, Mannie Fresh. We really look for talent that personifies hip-hop and really speaks to the culture in general.”